Tuesday, June 12, 2007

No Less Noble: Mental Illness, Addiction and the Soul

Logo of the Baha'i Association of Mental Health Professionals, whose Board of Directors I have the pleasure to serve upon. Check us out at www.bamhp.org and consider becoming a member.

Even though it is what I do everyday, recently the nature of my work with people with mental illness and addictions seems to keep coming up in conversation. I'm often asked about what I do for a living. You know how it goes, you're in some social setting and for lack of anything else to say, a person breaks the ice with "So what do you do?" "I'm the Director of a program of the Boston Public Health Commission that serves people with mental illness and addictions" I replay with a smile. At this point the person almost always makes a face like I just told them I was afflicted with some kind of flesh eating bacteria. "Oh, that must be haaarrrd!" they say. "I love it, I wouldn't do anything else", I say.

My years in this profession have been hard at times, it's true, but in the best kind of way, way that has only deepened and confirmed my faith in God and in humanity. What has kept me going is are the teachings of Baha'u'llah. One of things He said that I often meditate on when I'm working is this:

"Know thou that the soul of man is exalted above, and is independent of all infirmities of body or mind. That a sick person showeth signs of weakness is due to the hindrances that interpose themselves between his soul and his body, for the soul itself remaineth unaffected by any bodily ailments. Consider the light of the lamp. Though an external object may interfere with its radiance, the light itself continueth to shine with undiminished power. In like manner, every malady afflicting the body of man is an impediment that preventeth the soul from manifesting its inherent might and power. Consider the lamp which is hidden under a bushel. Though its light be shining, yet its radiance is concealed from men. Likewise, consider the sun which hath been obscured by the clouds. Observe how its splendor appeareth to have diminished, when in reality the source of that light hath remained unchanged. The soul of man should be likened unto this sun, and all things on earth should be regarded as his body. So long as no external impediment interveneth between them, the body will, in its entirety, continue to reflect the light of the soul, and to be sustained by its power. As soon as, however, a veil interposeth itself between them, the brightness of that light seemeth to lessen. Consider again the sun when it is completely hidden behind the clouds. Though the earth is still illumined with its light, yet the measure of light which it receiveth is considerably reduced. Not until the clouds have dispersed, can the sun shine again in the plenitude of its glory. Neither the presence of the cloud nor its absence can, in any way, affect the inherent splendor of the sun. The soul of man is the sun by which his body is illumined, and from which it draweth its sustenance, and should be so regarded."
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 153)

'Abdu'l-Baha has also said something that I draw upon during the inevitable tests and trials of my profession:

"Inasmuch as all were created in the image of God, we must bring ourselves to realize that all embody divine possibilities."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 113)

Whenever I remember the reality of the soul of each person I'm privileged to serve, the soul whose light has been temporarily obscured by the clouds of illness, my heart is filled with the Holy Spirit and I feel empowered to minister to them in a way that transcends the sum of the problems in his or her life. When I remember that every single man and woman I try to assist was created in the image of the same God that I was and thus embody divine possibilities, I'm able to focus on discovering with them what those divine possibilities might be. If work really is worship, I get to pray all day. What could be sweeter than that? Each day, I have the opportunity to witness a resurrection of some soul, if I just pay attention. I just have to never forget that these men, women, youth and children are no less noble because of their afflictions. I'll close with the Words of Baha'u'llah:

"From the exalted source, and out of the essence of His favor and bounty He hath entrusted every created thing with a sign of His knowledge, so that none of His creatures may be deprived of its share in expressing, each according to its capacity and rank, this knowledge. This sign is the mirror of His beauty in the world of creation. The greater the effort exerted for the refinement of this sublime and noble mirror, the more faithfully will it be made to reflect the glory of the names and attributes of God, and reveal the wonders of His signs and knowledge. Every created thing will be enabled (so great is this reflecting power) to reveal the potentialities of its pre-ordained station, will recognize its capacity and limitations, and will testify to the truth that "He, verily, is God; there is none other God besides Him."...
(Baha'u'llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 262)

What do you think?

Coming Soon on Baha'i Thought: Biblical Literacy and Building Community